Republican Mandate?

There are several articles out today pondering what it means that President Bush was comfortably re-elected and the Republicans increased their margins in both the House and Senate. Some people apparently think it means that the American public prefers Republicans and their policies and fear that the policians will reach that conclusion as well and–shudder–enact the policies they ran upon.

Maureen Dowd [RSS] is just apoplectic.

The president got re-elected by dividing the country along fault lines of fear, intolerance, ignorance and religious rule. He doesn’t want to heal rifts; he wants to bring any riffraff who disagree to heel. W. ran a jihad in America so he can fight one in Iraq – drawing a devoted flock of evangelicals, or “values voters,” as they call themselves, to the polls by opposing abortion, suffocating stem cell research and supporting a constitutional amendment against gay marriage.
Mr. Bush, whose administration drummed up fake evidence to trick us into war with Iraq, sticking our troops in an immoral position with no exit strategy, won on “moral issues.”

The president says he’s “humbled” and wants to reach out to the whole country. What humbug. The Bushes are always gracious until they don’t get their way. If W. didn’t reach out after the last election, which he barely grabbed, why would he reach out now that he has what Dick Cheney calls a “broad, nationwide victory”? While Mr. Bush was making his little speech about reaching out, Republicans said they had “the green light” to pursue their conservative agenda, like drilling in Alaska’s wilderness and rewriting the tax code.

A front page story in today’s Washington Post expresses the same sentiment, although more objectively.

Rightward Shift May Squeeze Centrists (Charles Babington and Juliet Eilperin, WaPo A01)

Tuesday’s Republican sweep of the South will reshape the next Senate, replacing moderate Democrats sometimes willing to cross party lines with ardent GOP conservatives who will press their leaders for a more right-leaning agenda, according to analysts.


These changes have the potential to reduce the importance of Republican moderates, especially in the Senate, and embolden conservatives in the White House and elsewhere, these analysts said. But they also might heap unrealistic expectations on Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who still lacks a filibuster-proof majority as he weighs a 2008 presidential bid.

The GOP’s bare Senate majority of 51 members will grow to 55, but the impact goes beyond mere numbers. Replacing Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.), often a bridge between the two parties on spending and deficit questions, is Rep. Jim DeMint, whose call for abolishing federal income, payroll and estate taxes is considered extreme even by some fellow Republicans. Succeeding Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), a key broker on sticky issues such as Medicare, is mainstream Republican Rep. David Vitter, who seems unlikely to play such a bipartisan role.
“Regrettably, we have seen an erosion in the Senate of centrists on both sides of the aisle,” said Sen. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, a Republican moderate whose leverage may drop substantially in the next Congress. She said she hoped Bush will push for cooperation between the two parties. Another GOP moderate, Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee (R.I.), expressed even deeper disappointment, telling the Providence Journal he would not rule out switching to the Democratic Party.

While Frist celebrated the victories that will leave only four Democratic senators in the former Confederacy, some political scholars noted he must oversee a diverse delegation that still has enough moderates to occasionally frustrate Bush’s agenda. But in light of Tuesday’s election results, conservatives in the House and White House may show less patience with roadblocks to drilling for oil in Alaska wildlife refuges or limiting civil liabilities for doctors and others. “The locus of power has moved dramatically to the right in the Senate,” said Marshall Wittmann, a senior fellow at the Democratic Leadership Council and former staff member for the Christian Coalition and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Whereas Democratic and moderate Republican senators often could derail or temper conservative initiatives from the House, he said, “that now becomes much more difficult.”

The AP, however, reminds us that it still takes 60 votes to do much of anything in the U.S. Senate and that some “Republicans” really aren’t Republicans.

Specter warns Bush on high court nominations

The Republican expected to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee next year bluntly warned newly re-elected President Bush today against putting forth Supreme Court nominees who would seek to overturn abortion rights or are otherwise too conservative to win confirmation. Sen. Arlen Specter, fresh from winning a fifth term in Pennsylvania, also said the current Supreme Court now lacks legal “giants” on the bench.

“When you talk about judges who would change the right of a woman to choose, overturn Roe v. Wade, I think that is unlikely,” Specter said, referring to the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. “The president is well aware of what happened, when a bunch of his nominees were sent up, with the filibuster,” Specter added, referring to Senate Democrats’ success over the past four years in blocking the confirmation of many of Bush’s conservative judicial picks. “… And I would expect the president to be mindful of the considerations which I am mentioning.”

Given that a Republican president won a re-election on a conservative platform, that conservative Republicans won most of the vacant Senate seats, that Republicans have now won seven straight majorities in the House, and that gay marriage bans were enacted in 11 of 11 states they were on the ballot, one might get the impression that there is some sentiment out there for conservative policies. There’s a reason the Republican party doesn’t nominate people like Specter, Snowe, or Chaffee to be president and that Democrats who don’t explicitly run against their party haven’t won a presidential election since 1964.

To govern effectively in his second term, President Bush will have to reach out on an issue-by-issue basis to moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats. There’s no way to enact controversial legislation without their support. But the idea that Bush should govern as if John Kerry had won the election is simply a head scratcher.

Update (0834): Spoons points out that Bush only has himself to blame for Specter.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2004, Law and the Courts, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bithead says:

    The president says he’s “humbled” and wants to reach out to the whole country. What humbug. The Bushes are always gracious until they don’t get their way.

    Whereas Dowd is on record as being gracious only when she’s not talking about Democrats. She clearly didn’t get the word form John Kerry about working together and playing nice.

  2. *Sigh*

    Bush, you could have had a shot at a conservative Republican with Toomey. I voted for Toomey (last PA election before I moved to Maryland). I specifically registered as a Republican again to vote for Toomey (cuz I was mad at the Bush domestic agenda – since then, I decided we could have our differences until they get me mad enough to register Independant again). If Bush had supported Toomey, or at least withdrawn support from Specter, we could have won, and it would have been Toomey v. Hoefel. Not sure how that would have went down, but Toomey as the Junior PA Senator would have been much better than Specter, and Hoefel couldn’t have been too much worse.

    Of course, lets blame Santourum a bit too. Senator Rick Santourum, still the Junior Senator from PA – quite popular, espicially among conservatives, also campaigned for Specter. When those two got involved, despite my own sentitment, I knew it was curtains for Toomey.

  3. Bryan says:

    so, Arlen’s got a “litmus test”?